Richard’s phone rang, disturbing the tranquility of a quiet Saturday afternoon in small town California. Rarely did his phone ring since he returned to his home town. He had been gone for three years studying law at faraway Duke University, and now he was preparing himself to take the California bar exam. He was studying constantly, with no time for a social life while trying to make ends meet.
Times were tough in California in 1938, as they were all over America. He worked incessantly to make something of himself.
He answered the phone.
“Richard? Hi! You don’t know me. This is Mrs. Lilly Baldwin. I’m so sorry to bother you. I’m the Director of the amateur theater company down at the community college. How are you today?”
Richard frowned at bit, somewhat perplexed. Why was the Director of the community college theater group calling him?
“I’m fine, Mrs. Baldwin. And what can I do for you this fine Saturday afternoon?”
“I have something I’d like to run by you. We’ll be putting on a production of a play in October at the Women’s Club House here at the college and I’d like you to consider taking a part.”
Richard tried to be polite. “I’m flattered, Mrs. Baldwin, but I have no acting experience and I’m in the midst of studying for the bar exam. Why in the world would you call me?”
“Because the part in the play is for a prosecutor, Richard. Who better to play a prosecutor than someone actually trained in law?”
Richard was now intrigued.
“And since you are not a student at the community college we are prepared to pay you a small stipend to appear in our play.” Richard had been working odd jobs between studies and this could turn into an opportunity to make a few badly needed dollars.
“Okay, tell me more.”
“The play is entitled Night of January 16th, and it ran successfully on Broadway last season. Do you remember the suicide of Ivar Kruger, the ‘Swedish Match King’ several years ago? He was one of the richest men in Europe and there was a great deal of controversy as to whether or not Kruger committed suicide or was perhaps dispatched. In any case, the play is set entirely in court and based on whether or not a well-to-do businessman was murdered by his secretary. She is not only on trial for his murder but is also being tried in the court of public opinion for…how shall I say…her offenses against the social order. She’s a bit of a libertine, an atheist and really cares for no one but herself.”
“Who wrote this play, Mrs. Baldwin? Anyone I’ve heard of?”
“A Russian emigre – someone named Rand; Ann or Ayn I think. I’m not sure about her first name. In any case, the thing that makes the play unique is that a jury is chosen from the audience and the jury gets to decide the guilt or innocence of the accused. It results in two different endings. Facts are presented with some ambiguity and the jury has to determine who is telling the truth. It’s a perfect part for a real attorney! I’m still looking for another lawyer to play defense counsel but I think you’d be perfect for the part of Mr. Flint, the prosecutor. Why don’t you come to the college and read for the part? Please?”
Richard liked theater and considered the possibility of earning a few bucks.
“Okay, Mrs. Baldwin. I’ll be there.”
“Thank you so much Richard. You won’t be sorry!”
The doorbell rang at Thelma’s apartment, her friend coming to pick her up. They were going to see a new play at the community college; it would be running for just two nights. It had been staged on Broadway and ran for some 250 performances. Thelma figured it was worth an evening out.
She was a school teacher, an acceptable career for young women in 1938. She loved the theater, did a little acting herself, but it was rare to see anything in the small California town and she couldn’t afford a trip to San Francisco to see a play. Movies were the passion of the everyday single woman.
“Are you ready?”
Thelma was pretty – a natural Irish red-head who turned heads. Dressed in a demure blouse and skirt in keeping with her carefully crafted school teacher image, she and her friend headed for the Women’s Club House.
The play was in three acts; the jury was chosen, the charges read, the testimony and cross concerning the defendant’s private life and beliefs, the half-obscured facts of the case. The jury voted.
Thelma noticed the prosecutor. She thought he was wonderful. She didn’t know he was a real attorney, trained at Duke. After the curtain and applause, Thelma and her friend stayed for refreshments and mingled with the cast and Mrs. Baldwin. As the audience and players mingled, Thelma said hello to the director. She was standing with the actor who had played Mr. Flint.
Mrs. Baldwin warmly embraced Thelma and introduced her to the prosecutor in the play.
“Richard, I’d like you to meet Thelma Ryan. She will be in our next play “Dark Tower” – except that she hates the name Thelma. Everyone calls her Pat…Pat, this is our newest player, Richard.”
The young lawyer-to-be stuck out his hand.
“Richard,” he said.